Ooof, since my last post about the Gila, I have shoveled my driveway, twice. I think this undertaking involves moving at least a ton of snow each go–good thing that clearing the driveway is also good for clearing the brain. Today’s shoveling wasn’t because I needed (or wanted) to go anywhere, but because I wanted to clear the 6 inches in advance of the 6-10″ that were forecast on the next, imminent system. Something about the discipline of clearing my own driveway reinforces my discipline to write; my refusal to put tracks (which will become ruts) in a snowy driveway translates to my refusal of letting myself slip into a rut with the writing. I’ve been here almost a month, now, and honestly I don’t want it–winter or this dedicated writing time–to end. I think I could live happily like this forever…
Anyway though, here’s another little passage for you–this one is from southern Louisiana in November.
I guess my luck at Cameron Ferry was fair, though the people around me might have perceived things differently. The boat was running, but there’s a gas plant, Venture Globa LNG, in the saltmarsh immediately east of the ship channel. I rolled up to the dock right after shift change; the line in front of me took two crossings to clear before it was my turn. You would’ve thought, with that sort of down time, I would’ve been able to do something useful, like find one single dollar bill. I didn’t, though, and I stalled the whole line out while the operator dealt with what I had. He handed back a stack of singles and a hard look, and I eased up the ramp—one of the steepest climbs in all of Cameron Parish. There, the highest point above sea level is the same number on the bill the ferry man had to break: twenty. The latter a short-term problem; the former a permanent one.
I’d barely set the brake when the ferry bumped into the west side dock. It was good I’d set it, though; the landing echoed the landscape: it wasn’t gentle. Back on Louisiana Highway 27, the gas plant pack jockeyed. The aim was to get, quickly, through No Man’s Land. On the other side, over the Sabine River, the promised land of a Port Charles Friday night waited. Make money; spend it. Quick. They were bound for bar rails. I was hoping for black rails. Stumbling might well be the common ground of our Friday night forecasts. The road to my evening entertainment was far shorter than theirs, so I pulled off onto the shoulder; got out of the way. No Man’s Land was, after all, my promised land.
Shortly after the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the United States and Spain couldn’t quite decide what to do with the region bounded by the Sabine and the Calcasieu rivers. The solution both countries settled on was to declare the area a neutral zone. Nobody was supposed to settle there—nobody was to have the jurisdiction to enforce laws there, either. The area was outside the governance of either country until 1821. You can imagine how well this turned out: outlaws became the dominant demographic, and in a petition to the U.S. government, the place was described as “the damned Neutral Ground is cursed of the Devil.” These guidelines didn’t keep people out—they attracted people in. The Neutral Strip had become No Man’s Land.